Chicago Cubs Core Is Fine – Their Pitching Isn’t

Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras talks with starting pitcher Jon Lester during the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images)
Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras talks with starting pitcher Jon Lester during the first inning against the Seattle Mariners at Wrigley Field in Chicago on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019. (Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images) /
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(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images)
(Photo by David Banks/Getty Images) /

A Chicago Cubs Offseason Plan

A true ace is the hardest thing to come by in baseball. The Chicago Cubs had them in 2016, but they don’t in 2020. There are two true aces on the free-agent market, but the Cubs have four more seasons of big money committed to Darvish and Jason Heyward, and their position player core is about to get mad expensive. They’re not going to outbid the field for Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg.

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The Cubs could go whole hog and commit to paying the luxury tax for the next four seasons. Like, they actually could. But no team in this era has committed to that level of spending.

They gambled and barely exceeded the luxury tax in 2019. Now they face repeater taxes if they exceed again, which becomes hard to stomach with back-to-back playoff misses. Because their position players are all coming of age at the same time, they’re in a bind.

Per Roster Resource, the Cubs are already over the luxury tax for 2020. Arbitration raises alone probably puts them over the line for 2021 as well. There’s not a good time to duck under the tax like the Nats in 2019 or the Dodgers the past two seasons. They can maybe clear a portion of Chatwood’s $13MM or all of. Quintana’s $11.5MM, but they’d have to move both and basically sign nobody to get under the tax line this season.

All in all, it’s hard to imagine how they’re going to acquire the difference makers to turn this team into a legit contender. The books are weighed down by large financial obligations to mid-tier players and a robust core of position players aging into expensive contracts at the same time. They haven’t produced pitching from the farm, and that doesn’t look like it’s changing this season.

As much fun as this team was in 2016, they were decidedly less so four seasons later, and now they’re facing the potential end of their run. Theo’s next move will be a tough one to swallow, but the right trade could key a continuance of their good fortune.

The swiftest way to add talent is to trade Contreras. It hurts, but Victor Caratini looks like an able replacement, and maybe even an improvement when it comes to framing. One of the only high-end prospects in the Chicago Cubs system also happens to be a catcher, and the Cubs can get by with Caratini and a backup without too much dropoff. Contreras has three years of control remaining, which opens up the possible field of suitors. He’s a significant trade chip.

Next. Bold predictions for MLB free agency. dark

Finding the right deal to cash in is the task facing Theo Epstein. Moving him takes guts because it might not provide the short-term boost Theo and fans want. But it’s the surest way to keep the talent pipeline flowing.